All-seeing "eye" watches over Mecca pilgrims
Under a bank of monitors broadcasting live footage from more than 5,000 cameras, Saudi officers have kept their eyes on every route and gathering spot at this year's hajj pilgrimage.
As custodians of the most sacred sites in Islam, the authorities have been at pains to assure the world that every possible measure has been taken to prevent a repeat of last year's disaster at the hajj that cost the lives of around 2,300 pilgrims in a stampede.
An "eye" which never closes forms the heart of the command and control centre located in Mina, near Mecca, said Colonel Saad al-Dosari, its planning chief.
Another officer, Captain Tareq al-Azam, told journalists that his dozens-strong team has been on duty around the clock monitoring this year's 1.8 million pilgrims who have converged on the desert kingdom from across the globe.
More than 5,000 cameras have been installed in the entire Mecca sector covering a radius of around 10 kilometres (six miles) around its Grand Mosque, the single holiest place in Islam.
The hajj: Pilgrims in their millions
Millions of devout Muslims are again conducting the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage this year takes place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and conflicts still flare in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Muslim minorities also face increased threats, including in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a sweeping curfew is in effect. By Janina Semenova
Religious joy: an experience that must be captured and recorded. For many Muslims the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the crowning moment of their faith. It is the religious duty of every Muslim to carry out the hajj – a journey that lasts several days – at least once in their lives, providing the individual is in good health and can afford to do it. Saudi Arabia is responsible for organising the pilgrimage
Anti-clockwise: the final destination on the pilgrimage is the holy city of Mecca. All worshippers visit the Grand Mosque in the Saudi Arabian city. In the inner courtyard of the mosque is the Kaaba, the "House of God", in the form of a black cube. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times, always in an anti-clockwise direction
Buried under rubble: around two million people travel to Mecca every year. The pilgrimage has been frequently overshadowed by misfortune – for example, on 15 September 2015. Just as the hajj was about to begin, a storm caused a crane to collapse onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing more than 100 people
Trampled to death: the next tragedy occurred nearly two weeks later, on 24 September 2015. Thousands of pilgrims were trampled to death in a mass panic in the town of Mina near Mecca. This is where pilgrims are supposed to conduct the ritual stoning of the devil
Travel ban for Muslims from Iran: it is thought that some 469 Iranians were among the dead. Following the incident, Iranians demonstrated outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. The Iranian government accused Saudi Arabia of negligence. This further exacerbated the already tense relationship between the two nations. Iran has banned its citizens from making the hajj this year
High-tech support: in response to the fatal accidents, Saudi Arabia has tightened security procedures. These include the introduction of electronic wristbands to identify each individual worshipper in the crowd. The wristbands will store personal data including health details and location, as well as inform pilgrims about prayer times
Praying on the mountain: one of the most important stations on the pilgrimage is the walk on Mount Arafat. It is here that the faithful supplicate to Allah to forgive their sins. According to Islamic tradition, this is where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. Another high point of the hajj is the Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid, celebrated by Muslims all over the world, regardless of whether they are taking part in the pilgrimage
From his vantage point, the captain can direct the cameras and is able to zoom in to investigate any suspicious-looking or potentially dangerous activity.
The job of the security team was "to survey the screens to detect any problem or any blockage" in the constant stream of pilgrims navigating the holy sites, explained Dosari.
If any anomaly is detected, "they inform the operations centre to prevent any problem before it can even happen."
Dozens of soldiers are posted at the centre, located a few metres (yards) away, with headphones on and microphones at the ready to pass on information to the tens of thousands of members of the security forces on the ground.
They also redirect any complaints from the pilgrims on a special number provided by Saudi authorities, who have said this year's hajj which started last Saturday and ends on Thursday has been free of any major incident. (AFP)
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